Anarcho-environmentalism allegorised

The name Anaarkali in the present context has many meanings - Anaar symbolises the anarchism of the Bhils and kali which means flower bud in Hindi stands for their traditional environmentalism. Anaar in Hindi can also mean the fruit pomegranate which is said to be a panacea for many ills as in the Hindi idiom - "Ek anar sou bimar - One pomegranate for a hundred ill people"! - which describes a situation in which there is only one remedy available for giving to a hundred ill people and so the problem is who to give it to. Thus this name indicates that anarcho-environmentalism is the only cure for the many diseases of modern development! Similarly kali can also imply a budding anarcho-environmentalist movement. Finally according to a legend that is considered to be apocryphal by historians Anarkali was the lover of Prince Salim who was later to become the Mughal emperor Jehangir. Emperor Akbar did not approve of this romance of his son and ordered Anarkali to be bricked in alive into a wall in Lahore in Pakistan but she escaped. Allegorically this means that anarcho-environmentalists can succeed in bringing about the escape of humankind from the self-destructive love of modern development that it is enamoured of at the moment and they will do this by simultaneously supporting women's struggles for their rights.

Sunday, October 2, 2016

Unto This Last

Today is Gandhi's birthday. Given the way he has been attacked in recent times by Dalit activists and Arundhati Roy who have taken him to task for his casteist stands and closeness to the collaborationist nascent Indian capitalists of the British era respectively and trivialised by the Prime Minister Narendra Modi who has chosen to highlight only his efforts at sanitation to the exclusion of his other more important work, it would be helpful to distil from his thought and practice, that which is relevant to us as activists today.
The initial formulation of Gandhi's socio-economic and political programmes were based on two books by two seminal western thinkers - "Unto This Last" by John Ruskin and "The Kingdom of God is Within You" by Leo Tolstoy. Ruskin was a critic of Victorian materialism and industrialism and relied on an evangelical interpretation of Christianity to press for a more humane social system, which would use the surpluses gained from modern development to pull up the people at the bottom of society and create a level playing field for them. As opposed to the classical economists like Ricardo and Malthus he refused to accept that resources were scarce and instead worked from the proposition that they were abundant but were being disproportionately and inappropriately used and advocated that, if need be, some of the new industrial and urban development should be jettisoned because it clashed with nature and human weal.
Ruskin's book gets its name from a parable in the Bible in which daily labourers are put to work throughout the day as and when there is an opportunity for them. At the end of the day all are paid the same wage. When some of the workers who have worked from the beginning protest, it is argued that the last of the workers was prepared to work the whole day and it was not his fault that he got an opportunity only at the end and so he too deserved the same wage. This was the inspiration for Gandhi's Sarvodaya or uplift of all. This is uncannily close to Marx's definition of Communism in which society takes from each according to their capacity and gives to each according to their need.  However, the crucial difference lies in the fact that while Marx was a materialist and a proponent of a violent overthrow of the capitalist system, Ruskin was a spiritual person and so pitched for winning over the hearts of the unbelievers rather than burning them at the stake. As regards the devastation of nature, Marx had the same views as Ruskin but unlike the latter the former was an out an out votary of modern industrial development and so he downplayed this aspect expressing the hope that once communism was established the relationship between man and nature would stabilise. Tolstoy in his book written after his conversion to Christianity deplores the violence that is rampant in society because of the greed of human beings and makes a moving impassioned plea, with an eloquence that only such a great writer could have displayed, that the way out of the sea of troubles in which human beings found themselves, was to become completely non-violent. This provided the inspiration for Gandhi's ahimsa or non-violence.

Sarvodaya and Ahimsa, the two most important pillars of Gandhism, were refined by him considerably from their western roots by incorporating the teachings of the Bhagvad Gita and this later led him to propose village self reliance based on sustainable and equitable development as the most desirable mode of living in his book "Hind Swaraj" which while also being a seminal work, has a blemish that it is gender blind like the works of Ruskin, Tolstoy, Marx and the ancient Hindu philosophical texts which he had read and drawn from earlier!!!
Hailed as the "Sarvodaya Manifesto", this work first of all critiques modern industrialism for the prominence it has given to greed, making human beings slaves of machines. Then it inveighs against the resultant change in the education imparted which has turned students away from sustainable occupations and instead trained them for professions based on greed. At the socio-political level this has resulted in a centralised system of governance to facilitate the exploitation of human beings and nature. This system is democratic and participative only on paper while in reality being controlled by the powerful classes. 
Then the book goes on to propose an economic alternative based mainly on rural industries, especially the charkha or spinning wheel and handlooms to produce khadi or hand spun and woven cloth that will gainfully employ labour and a minimum of modern industries and a socio-political alternative based on totally participative and largely self sufficient and autonomous village republics or panchayats. A political programme based on non-violence is proposed for achieving this. It is argued that a truly just society has to be non-violent in nature and to achieve it, the means to be employed must also be non-violent. Civil disobedience and passive resistance relying on spiritual power instead of arms are suggested as the modes of action and given the name "Satyagraha" or effort embedded in truth. The aim of the satyagrahi or passive resister should be to bear repression passively so as to impress on the oppressor the immorality of his deeds and so win his heart over. An important part of the satyagrahi's programme would be to resist unjust laws through civil disobedience or non-cooperation. There would be a new education system called Nai Taleem to produce youth who would be the standard bearers of this revolution.
The day before he was assassinated on January 30th 1948, Gandhi had drafted a resolution for discussion in the forthcoming meeting of the All India Congress Committee, which has come to be known as his last will and testament. In this he had put forward the radical idea that since independence had been achieved the Congress party had served its purpose and it should be disbanded and instead all the members should devote themselves for the rejuvenation of rural India where the life of the masses was weighed down by the burden of oppressive forces that were internal to Indian society. Gandhi had been bothered by this internal oppression even during the freedom struggle and so had set up many ashrams throughout India to carry out rural empowerment and reconstruction work. The adoption of a nationwide Sarvodayi programme of action after independence would have meant micro planning from the village or even hamlet upwards with the macro planning of the country as a whole to be done so as to be able to provide resources at the central level for the fulfilment of the village level micro plans. Something that Gandhi called an Oceanic Circle to counter the image of a pyramid that top down planning conveys. In the ocean the water moves out in waves from an epicentre, which is the most powerful and so also the village republic was projected as being the most powerful in Gandhian social dynamics.
Unfortunately Gandhi never seriously tried to implement the programme he conceived in Hind Swaraj, primarily because he compromised by seeking financial support from the Indian industrialists and also by never pressing Satyagraha to the final extent where the passive resisters give up their lives. Moreover, he never addressed the deep caste and gender oppression in Indian society on a wide enough scale to seriously challenge caste hierarchy and patriarchy and was so unable to mobilise the masses in larger numbers. The fault lies not so much with Gandhi but with the fact that capitalism was in the ascendant throughout the twentieth century and there was no way in which Gandhi could have remained in control of a mass movement by sticking to the straight and narrow path he formulated in Hind Swaraj. Contemporaneously in the Soviet Union, first Lenin and then Stalin deviated greatly from Marxist tenets to keep the Soviet Union alive in the face of global capitalist opposition. Thus, the powers that be, in the British hierarchy and the Congress hierarchy, whether economic, social or political, were never discomfited to the extent where their consciences, of which they have very little anyway, would be moved enough for them to agree to a more just and sustainable development model. Consequetnly, we have a highly unjust and unsustainable socio-economic dispensation in power in India today. He was spared the embarrassment of witnessing his proposed village centred development programme being rejected by the Congress party as he was assassinated by Hindu fanatics who blamed him for the partition of the subcontinent into India and Pakistan.
However, in theory, Gandhi's concepts of sarvodaya, ahimsa, khadi gramodyog, nai taleem etc, suitably modified to attack caste and gender oppression in a more concerted manner, can form the basis of effective programmes of anarchist action at a decentralised level against the depredations of a highly centralised and exploitative modern economic and political system which have now become highly destructive of nature also in addition to being socially and economically unjust. There is no guarantee that such decentralised anarchist programmes of action will coalesce into an effective overall challenge to the present destructive system, but experience across the country shows that in small pockets such actions can make some difference at a time when the immense power of the centralised system does not brook any concerted centralised challenge to its hegemony whatsoever.

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